Did you ever hear of International Disabilities Day— celebrated on December 3rd? Neither had I until Samantha was invited by the Korean ambassador, Chull Joo Park, to perform at a reception for International Disabilities Day 2019. Ambassador Park explained that Korea is part of MIKTA, a group of nations including Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia. Up until Samantha’s invitation, I had no idea such a partnership existed between various far-apart countries.
What does MIKTA do besides hold yearly receptions hosted by one of the five countries? Wikipedia describes MIKTA as an informal partnership between the above-mentioned nations. Led by foreign ministers, MIKTA was created in 2013 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City to help support global governance. Some of the many worldwide challenges they aim to address are: economic cooperation for social development, climate change, and social inclusion of people with disabilities.
How was my daughter selected to sing for such an august group of foreign diplomats? As Samantha’s agent says, the more work you do, the more work you get. Samantha gave a speech for World Autism Awareness Day at the United Nations. Afterwards, the Korean ambassador (who has since encouraged me to call him CJ) approached me and Samantha to compliment her on her speech. The Ambassador had not seen her film Keep the Change and was eager to watch it, so I invited him to a screening at Pace University, where, it turns out, his brother works.
When CJ told us how much he enjoyed the film and Samantha’s performance, I confided I wished there were more opportunities for my daughter to perform. Samantha eagerly told the Korean Ambassador that she loved to sing, had perfect pitch, and performed in cabarets as well as several theater groups. CJ then asked Samantha if she would like to perform at the reception he was hosting on December 3rd. Of course Samantha immediately and enthusiastically accepted, even though it was April and December seemed a LONG way off.
Time for this momager to go to work. Emails went back and forth all summer. I went to visit the Korean mission to iron out the details and check out the acoustics and the piano. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, I knew CJ and his staff would do everything to make Samantha feel welcome and reduce any anxiety or worries she might have. I also arranged for her vocal coach and Broadway musical director Jonathan Ivie to accompany Samantha on the piano. After sending samples of Samantha singing at Jivie’s July cabaret, the deal was sealed.
Samantha and Jonathan worked on thematically appropriate songs all summer and into the fall.
Together they chose Que Sera Sera, Bridge Over Troubled Water and You’ll Never Walk Alone. All of these songs were new for Samantha—no easy peasy golden oldies for her! Although she found Bridge Over Troubled Water especially challenging, she finally mastered it after many repetitions.
There were at least 100 people crowded into two rooms with a double-height ceiling where she performed. The only people seated were those in wheel chairs, including a gold medal winner in swimming from the Special Olympics. Not everyone was quiet and listened to Samantha in the beginning. Most of the diplomats in the adjoining room continued to eat, drink and make merry even during the short opening speeches by the Korean and Australian ambassadors.
Unlike many people with (and without autism!), the background noise did not phase Samantha in the least as she began her 8 minute performance.
“Why doesn’t someone ask those people to be quiet?” Howard asked, slightly annoyed and distracted.
I didn’t answer because I was too busy trying to video Samantha’s performance with my spanking new iPhone 11 Pro. After the first song, I gave up and just watched and listened. I couldn’t help noticing that the audience had grown much quieter and more attentive. Samantha’s voice was so powerful she silenced most of the background chitchat. I was SO proud of her.
What a set of lungs! Could this really be the same baby girl, born 7 weeks early who struggled to breathe with an air pocket on her lung, and suffered heart arrhythmia? Even after more than 20 years of slow-but-incredible progress, it’s hard for me to forget that my daughter was the little girl with autism, PDD and a host other of doomsday labels who would (supposedly) end up in an institution and never go to college.
Instead I gloried in watching my daughter sing her heart out to a crowded room full of international dignitaries, Dazzling in her red sequined dress, I wasn’t really surprised that Samantha captured the audience with her brave smile and enormous soprano voice.
At the end I blew her a kiss, and she sent one back before taking a bow.